What is a demonstration reach?
The demonstration reach concept was developed under the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) that was developed in response to the decline in condition of river systems and native fish populations across the Murray-Darling Basin. In 2003, the then Murray-Darling Basin Commission released NFS, with the aim of rehabilitating habitats and fish populations over a 50 year period. This strategy provided a long-term program to tackle key threats to native fish populations, with management decisions underpinned by rigorous science and using an adaptive management approach. Community engagement was a key component of the strategy, and demonstration reaches were a fundamental feature of the NFS approach to genuine community engagement.
Demonstration reaches encompass four pillars:
The demonstration reach model establishes a practical and comprehensive planning framework that involves the local community and all relevant stakeholders. It also sets up a monitoring and evaluation program to measure progress in the rehabilitation of riverine habitat and fish communities. The model maximizes the effectiveness of rehabilitation efforts by concentrating them on a reach of river, wetland or both. On-ground interventions can include habitat rehabilitation, management of alien species, improvement of water quality and fish passage, provision of environmental flows and fish stockings.
Rigorous monitoring is undertaken to demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved by such an integrated program. In principle, the successful rehabilitation of a reach will enhance community awareness and support for such actions, focus the attention of funding agencies, establish partnerships and boost scientific knowledge of rehabilitation techniques. Demonstrations reaches must be of sufficient size to impact on river health and rehabilitate the fish populations targeted.
It is recognized that sometimes, funding constraints limit the ability to undertake rigorous monitoring. These rehabilitation reaches can still apply the demonstration reach model and use this toolbox. Rehabilitation Reaches simply encompass three pillars:
- Community involvement
- On-ground interventions
Without the monitoring component, however, an adaptive management approach cannot be used and the effectiveness of interventions will remain largely unknown.
Why establish a demonstration reach?
Demonstration Reaches work because:
- People identify with fish, and demonstration reaches provide an effective method of harnessing community interest and participation in river rehabilitation where results are measurable and can be celebrated.
- Involving the community in all aspects of a river rehabilitation program will greatly increase awareness and help engender ownership of local issues.
- Applying multiple interventions in rehabilitating rivers and fish communities is likely to be more effective than single interventions.
- Most river rehabilitation projects are spread too thinly, potentially diluting their cost effectiveness. Concentrating efforts on specific, smaller stretches of river is likely to be more effective.
- Demonstration reaches are long-term programs, incorporating and recognizing differences in temporal and spatial scales.
- The inclusion of rigorous monitoring means that demonstration reaches uses an evidence-based approach to demonstrate outcomes – this is an appealing ‘hook’ for funding bodies that expect measurable outcomes.
- The demonstration reach ‘brand’ has significant value, having operated for over ten years, with significant achievements and lessons learnt. Some reaches have developed substantial partnerships, won awards, and attracted investment and success. This provides an important template for others to use.
- There is an existing network of people who have been directly involved in demonstration reaches and can share a wealth of knowledge and experience.